Poor infrastructure blamed for Iran death toll

Map of population exposure to the first shock. Click here to see the image in large size. Photo by: U.S. Geoglogical Survey

Twin earthquakes that shook Iran’s eastern region Saturday (Aug. 11) have left more than 2,600 people injured and 16,000 homeless.

Many of the residents in Ahar, Harees and Varzaghan, the three towns badly hit by the quakes, are staying in parks and other open spaces for fear of more aftershocks and because they have no houses to come home to. Apart from relief items such as food, water and blankets, providing shelter is top priority.

In response to urgent shelter needs, the Iranian Red Crescent Society distributed 9,674 relief tents, International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Senior Communications Officer Raefah Makki told Devex.

Several personalities have sent their sympathies to the people of Iran, including U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and EU Commission Vice-President Catherine Ashton, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the global body “stands ready” to send humanitarian support to the affected areas.

But the Iranian Red Crescent and the government maintain international assistance is not needed at the moment. Several countries have offered help, but Iran can still manage the situation, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told The Associated Press.

The official death toll is now at 250, although some reports put the figures at nearly 300. Search and rescue operations were stopped Sunday (Aug. 12) afternoon.

The government now plans to allocate funds for building earthquake-resistant infrastructure following the quakes. Most of the houses in rural areas are made of mud and would not be able to withstand even moderate quakes, according to AP.

The aim is to finish construction before temperatures drop, signaling the start of winter. But it remains to be seen if this can be achieved, given the scale of the damage. Some 20 villages have been destroyed and more than 130 suffered “heavy damage,” according to Iran’s state TV, AP reports.

The IFRC has been advocating for the creation of sturdy infrastructure that can prevent and reduce the effects of disasters like earthquakes, Makki said. And they have been and continue to be in constant coordination with the government on the matter. But the IFRC does not “have a final say” on when this would happen and what the construction deadlines would be.

Saturday’s loss of life, according to Iranian seismologist Bahram Akasheh, can be attributed to “shoddy construction” and “poor oversight.”

“There shouldn’t have been more than 10 injured,” he told Iranian Labor News Agency, voicing fears of worse disasters in future.

“Soon we will be hit by a 7 or higher quake,” he said. “I am very worried.”

Two quakes hit East Azerbaijan province, near the city of Tabriz. The first measured 6.4 in magnitude. The second, at 6.3, came just 11 minutes after, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, BBC reports.

The United States also sent its sympathies to the “Iranian people” Monday (Aug. 13). Americans are also free to send “food and medicine without obtaining an Iranian transactions regulations license,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a press briefing. The statement is in response to concerns raised by advocacy group National Iranian Advocacy Council on the difficulty of sending aid to Iranians affected by the quakes given standing U.S. sanctions on Iran over the Asian country’s disputed nuclear program.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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